New Greek government gets off to bumpy start, with a row over tweets

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 23, 2015 2:53 PM

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras demanded explanations from his coalition partners on Wednesday, after allegations a member of his new cabinet had made anti-semitic and racist remarks on social media.

With the ink on cabinet appointments barely dry, controversy surfaced over Tsipras's selection of lawmaker Dimitris Kammenos as junior infrastructure and transport minister.

Kammenos is a member of the right-wing Independent Greeks (IG) party, coalition partners with Tsipras's leftist Syriza party.

Kammenos said his social media posts were handled by a team of aides, and his accounts had been hacked many times.

"I am opposed to any related posts which were perceived or were insulting to groups of fellow citizens. With this statement, I want to personally apologize to anyone disturbed (by this), and categorically condemn racism, homophobia and anti-semitism," Kammenos said in a statement.

Tsipras, in Brussels for a summit on the European migrant crisis, telephoned his IG partners and asked for an explanation, an aide to the prime minister said.

"The prime minister said that if all this is true, if these tweets are true, then he has to be relieved of his duties," the aide told Reuters.

Dimitris Kammenos is unrelated to Panos Kammenos, the leader of IG party and Greece's defense minister.

One Syriza lawmaker, Vassiliki Katrivanou, said the appointment was "a disgrace". The opposition Socialist PASOK party said it was a "blatant violation of fundamental principles of the political left."

"Instead of turning its back on the past, the government is legitimizing racism and anti-semitism," a PASOK spokesman said.

Dimitris Kammenos stirred controversy in the summer with a posting on his Facebook account superimposing the words "We will stay in Europe" on a photograph of the entrance to the Auchwitz concentration camp.

It was his perceived attempt to illustrate the hardship encountered by Greeks, but slammed by many, including Greece's Jewish community, as a "hideous attempt to trivialize" Auchwitz. Kammenos later put it down to a misunderstanding.

(Writing by Michele Kambas, editing by Larry King)